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Identification of Preferences in Forced-Choice Conjoint Experiments: Reassessing the Quantity of Interest

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2021

Flavien Ganter*
Department of Sociology, Columbia University, New York City, NY, USA. Email:
Corresponding author Flavien Ganter


Forced-choice conjoint experiments have become a standard component of the experimental toolbox in political science and sociology. Yet the literature has largely overlooked the fact that conjoint experiments can be used for two distinct purposes: to uncover respondents’ multidimensional preferences, and to estimate the causal effects of some attributes on a profile’s selection probability in a multidimensional choice setting. This paper makes the argument that this distinction is both analytically and practically relevant, because the quantity of interest is contingent on the purpose of the study. The vast majority of social scientists relying on conjoint analyses, including most scholars interested in studying preferences, have adopted the average marginal component effect (AMCE) as their main quantity of interest. The paper shows that the AMCE is neither conceptually nor practically suited to explore respondents’ preferences. Not only is it essentially a causal quantity conceptually at odds with the goal of describing patterns of preferences, but it also does generally not identify preferences, mixing them with compositional effects unrelated to preferences. This paper proposes a novel estimand—the average component preference—designed to explore patterns of preferences, and it presents a method for estimating it.

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology

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Edited by Jeff Gill


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